HIV does not discriminate. It can affect people across all socioeconomic classes, backgrounds and groups — even those that build their career around helping young people with the virus.
Dr. Rob Garofalo, 50, is the head of the HIV prevention center at the Lurie Children’s Hospital and for years has treated HIV-positive youths. He also happens to be HIV-positive.
Diagnosed in 2010, Garofalo, had just survived kidney cancer and a breakup with a long-term partner. The news put him over the edge, with him contemplating suicide.
“I couldn’t afford myself the same compassion that I’d spent a career teaching other people to have,” Garofalo told the AP.
Things changed in 2011. Garofalo got a dog.
Named Fred, the Yorkshire terrier helped him come out of his deep depression and reengage with the world. The pint-size pup required Garofalo to get outside and walk him, chat with people that inquired about Fred and take responsibility for another living being besides himself.
His mother called Fred a “miracle” because he had “brought her son backed.”
Fred helped Garofalo so much, he started his own nonprofit Fred Says. The organization uses the image of the dog on T-shirts, mugs, leashes and greeting cards to raise money to provide care for HIV-positive teens through various programs. Out of this came “When Dogs Heal,” a photo-essay project in collaboration with photographer Jesse Frieden and writer Zach Stafford. HIV-positive dog owners allowed the group to document the unique relationship they shared with their pups and how their companion animal helped them deal with the virus.
“All the stories are different, different walks of life, but that’s the theme,”Frieden told us earlier this year. “Their dogs stuck by them, and now they’re okay, and that’s beautiful.”
With today being World AIDS Day, the “When Dogs Heal” exhibit has officially launched and will be showing today in Chicago and in New York City on Dec. 3.
Garofalo has his dog to thank for allowing him to be part of this project, telling the outlet, “Sometimes people think I am a little crazy about my dog, and I am but I’m not exaggerating when I say he saved my life.”